Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hualien - The City of Earthquakes

Hiking in Taroko Gorge

Hualien is a small city located about two hours by train from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. It's in between the Central Mountain range and on the coast of Pacific ocean which makes it a great location for different purposes as you can enjoy the city life but also go hiking, whale watching and more. We had two reasons to go there, the Taroko Gorge and frequent earthquakes.

Amazing Taroko, Hualien

Hualien is known for it's notorious location being prone to earthquakes. By frequent we mean daily. On our four day stay we experienced at least two earthquakes per day, every day, three on average and the biggest being 5.6M. I guess it was some sort of a small peak which seems to happen every now and then. You can see a list of most recent earthquakes in Taiwan here.

Earthquakes in Hualien, Taiwan

Scootering away 

For the locals it's not a big deal. They seemed to go on with their daily activities as per usual even when we were having lunch and the whole restaurant started shaking. The locals only seemed to raise their heads to calmly observe the situation. For us, staying on the 15th floor of our hotel and waking up around 4 in the night was quite intense. Interesting, once-in a lifetime intense kind of a way. I had been hoping to experience a small earthquake already for a very long time starting from our trip to Iceland, where nothing happened at all to Bali where I think I woke up to a tiny quake during the night but am not sure. In Hualien it finally happened up to the point that eventually, on our departure day, we were actually quite happy to leave and return to more stable grounds.

Apparently there has been sun in Taroko

We ended up staying in Hualien for a little longer than expected. Initially the plan was to drive from Taipei to Hualien where we wanted to stay two days and then continue to Sun Moon Lake. However, we didn't know we needed The International Driving Permit which lead to the cancellation of the car rental. It all went quite smooth, though. The local Avis Car Rental employees, who were already used to a situation like this, helped us make other travel arrangements so  it only took us less than an hour to get ourselves on a train to Hualien. We had a nice hotel booked in Hualien so staying there was no issue at all, although we would have loved to stay in the mountains also.

Taroko Gorge, Hualien, Taiwan

The highlights of the area, aside the earthquakes, was the Taroko Gorge, the Pacific Ocean and the food. Hualien city itself is quite small so a day or two is enough. We had all sorts of hikes planned for the time we stayed in Hualien but due to the weather and the earthquakes we decided to skip most the longer and more demanding trails. We did hike some shorter, less demanding paths that were nice but not particularly challenging.

Taroko Gorge

There are a few things we didn't realize to consider but should have, when planning hiking trips in Taroko Gorge.

  • Some hiking trails were recently closed due to recent land slides
Frequent earthquakes and rain causes landslides. A few of the trails we planned to hike were closed very recently as there had been many earthquakes lately. Have a few back-up trails in case you can't hike the one you originally planned. 

  • Land slides are very frequent
Taroko has been the only location where we decided to skip hiking for safety reasons. We had rented a scooter to drive around the Taroko National Park and on our way back we saw several fresh landslides or huge fallen rocks on the road that were not there when we drove by only less than an hour earlier. Maybe, if we hadn't experienced all the earthquakes during these days we would have gone hiking but with the trembling ground beneath our feet and the closed hiking paths (due to land slides) we had to turn back from were enough to convince us to reconsider.

  • Some trails also required a permit which was surprisingly difficult to obtain without a local guide.
Try and find a local to help you out getting a permit to hike some of the most interesting trails. Do this well in advance as it takes time to arrange everything. Also, note that you need a local phone number as the park ranger will try and contact you to verify the permit. If you don't have a local contact or a guide,  you can try and get a prepaid SIM card once you arrive. For this you need to pay a visit to a mobile dealer (don't forget to take your passport). Note that it's quite a hassle to get the hiking permit if you don't speak the local language. You might want to start the permit process before you depart to Taiwan or latest the first day you arrive.

Taroko is an amazing place to hike, just be well prepared and careful. There are also lots of easy trails that are accessible and much less dangerous. 

Hualien city, Taiwan

Cityscape, Hualien

Eventually with all the changes in our plans we had lots of time to spare. We enjoyed the spa at our hotel, rented a scooter to explore Hualien and surroundings, cycled around the area and definitely didn't skip a chance to eat at one of the many restaurants.

One of the temples in Hualien

..and more temples..

and another one.

We hired a scooter and drove around the area exploring and taking pictures. Technically the International Driving Permit is required also for two wheelers but some shops might overlook this, like they did in our case.

View from Parkview Hotel, Hualien, Taiwan

Hualien, Taiwan

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